20 September 2011

Movie review: Space Battleship Yamato (2010 live action)

I imprinted on Leiji Matsumoto's works at a very early age. I was about 5 (we only had HBO for a year), and I was watching the cartoons they showed one day. There was a kid, a space train, and this woman with long blonde hair, which was all I could remember about it until I found a VHS (remember those?) of Galaxy Express 999 at Suncoast (remember them?) when I was in college. Those were the days when you had to pay extra for the "collector's edition," which was Japanese audio with subtitles, because those letters were really expensive.

Back in the 80s, Matsumoto's other main work, Space Battleship Yamato, was dubbed into English and shown on American TV as Star Blazers, renaming ace pilot Kodai Susumu to Derek Wildstar. (I almost put Rick Hunter there, but that's what Ichijou Hikaru ended up as in Robotech, the US adaptation of Macross.) This fan site has plot summaries.

Last December, the live action movie was released in theaters, starring quite a few famous Japanese actors like Kimura Takuya (from the J-drama and movie Hero, about a lawyer, among other things). They made a few changes, notably making Dr Sado, of the bottle of sake and large orange cat, a woman, making it a little less of a sausage-fest. Still, there are only three named women on the Yamato: Sado, Mori Yuki, and the one whose name I forget but who's one of the Black Tigers.

It's the year 2199, and about five years ago, meteor bombs started hitting the Earth, making the surface too irradiated to live on and sending people underground to try to eke out a living. Humanity is fighting off Gamilas attacks, and everything they do, the Gamilas adapt to counter them. Captain Okita is leading an assault/defense force at Mars, and the Gamilan fleet is too strong for their weaponry. Kodai Mamoru, captain of the Yukikaze, uses his ship as a shield to allow Okita to escape and take the news to Earth.

Kodai Susumu is a scavenger. He goes out looking for metal to take to the military. While he's out scavenging, a strange object falls from the sky and knocks off his protective gear. He picks it up and mysteriously survives the deadly radiation levels. At the same time, Okita's ship returns. He takes the object to the military, and they examine it and find coordinates for planet Iscandar, where the Gamilas come from, and blueprints for a warp engine and a powerful weapon, the wave motion gun.

The leader of the military decides to send the Yamato out to Iscandar to find a decontamination device, which would allow people to move back to the surface, and Kodai joins up again. He'd been an ace pilot at the time of the initial Gamilan attacks, but he left after a personal tragedy. He is angry at Okita, because he believes Okita sacrificed his brother in order to escape. He meets up with his old buddies, the Black Tigers.

The name for the ship wasn't chosen at random. The Yamato was a WW2 battleship that was sent on a mission to defend Okinawa until it was destroyed, to give the Japanese people a last hope (as Kodai explains in a speech at the end). Pasting from wikipedia, Yamato's symbolic might was such that some Japanese citizens held the belief that their country could never fall as long as the ship was able to fight. The word Yamato also carries significance in Japan as a poetic name for the country and remains as a metaphor for the end of the empire.

While they're in transit, they're repeatedly attacked by Gamilan forces, and when they eventually make it to Iscandar, they find something unexpected. I won't spoil the ending, but I saw it coming, because I've seen the old anime movies.

At times, it's goofy. I couldn't help but laugh at the Star Trek-like "the bridge is shaking, everybody lean to the right and look like you're hanging on" effects, but the CG was really nice. I couldn't figure out why they made a land assault at Iscandar rather than stay in their nice ships, other than to allow for heroism and sacrifice. The zero-g-love scene made me giggle (mainly because it put this song in my head). But it's based on one of the classics of science fiction anime, and even as it changes and updates a few things (like the Gamilans being energy beings (they're still blue, though) and the Cosmo Zero having something like a Valkyrie's Gerwalk mode, probably just because it looks cool), it's still the story Matsumoto wrote at its core.

It's worth seeing, if you know how to get hold of it. There's no word yet of an English release.

08 September 2011

Back from Dragon*Con

I've actually been back since Monday evening, but Tuesday my lack of sleep caught up with me in the form of a low-grade migraine (sinus pressure, headache, no appetite, mild sensitivity to light), and yesterday I had to get back into my normal routine.

I had a lot of fun, as usual, though there weren't as many panels or people I wanted to see this year. Yeah, they had Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), but he wasn't my favorite, and I don't think he could top Matthew Lewis' panel from a few years ago. I really enjoyed Eric Flint's panel in the alternate history track about Marxism. It was a guided discussion (by a moderator, who asked questions like "How does your Marxism influence your writing?" and "How do you portray class in your works?") between him and SM Stirling (who is very much not a Marxist), which was incredibly interesting. It gave me a few things to think about for my writing.

This year I watched the parade, which I hadn't done in any of the previous five years I've gone. It's a great way to see a lot of cool costumes without much effort. Also, the whole lot of Stormtroopers bringing up the rear (yay, 501st) is a really impressive sight.

I also got my copy of Shades of Milk and Honey signed.

There weren't a whole lot of shiny things for me in the dealers halls, though I bought a t-shirt from an artist's table (it was tan! with a cute kitsune on it!) and two model kits from Gundam 00. And a statue of Ozma Lee's Valkyrie from Macross Frontier. Not much else really jumped out at me.

I really enjoy going to Dragon*Con; it's a 4-day nerd party, where you don't get judged for wanting to dress up like Superman or Batman or Zatanna or Captain Harlock or a space Marine or an alien or a zombie, vampire, werewolf, or Macho Man Randy Savage or ... you get the point. It's getting ridiculous to get hotel rooms; rumor has it the Hilton is already sold out for next year (though I'm skeptical of that). The Marriott and Hyatt sell out within hours of the block opening.

I want to attend a World Con sometime soon, but, annoyingly, the next two are Labor Day weekend. Not that I could afford to go to both even if they were different weekends, mind. 2012 is going to be in Chicago, 2013 in San Antonio. 2014 hasn't been voted on yet, but London's bid is unopposed. I can't afford to go to London, and being in London is extremely expensive (especially since it's usually 2 pounds to the dollar, and a sit-down meal will cost you 20 pounds or so). I'm not super excited about San Antonio; it's Labor Day weekend. Atlanta is hot enough, and I don't want to go someplace hotter. Which means Chicago next year is the likeliest option in the near future. I've never really visited Chicago, and depending on how things work out with the hotel and travel days, we could have a short vacation there.

Which leads to an additional problem. My oldest cat, Isis, is an evil tortie, and she has diabetes. The cat sitter we hired for last weekend had so much trouble with Her Evilness that she had to bring a second person to help hold her to get her shot, for which we owe her additional monies. It stressed Isis out badly enough that she must have had a sugar spike, because she was sick when we got home and is on two different antibiotics right now. She doesn't hate our usual cat sitter, but she's got a second job now, which gives her crazy hours, so she's not always available. Maybe by next year, she'll have enough seniority not to get the shit hours.

We need to decide fairly quickly, though. Memberships are $175 each right now, and the price goes up October 1. Blech. (I understand why they're so expensive: each World Con committee has only one chance to recoup their costs for guest transport, hotel rental, etc. I can still think it's too damned expensive.)

04 September 2011

Book review: When the Tide Rises

When the Tide Rises, David Drake. 2008, Baen Books.

This is the sixth novel in Drake's RCN series. I haven't read any of the previous books, but that didn't make much difference, as far as I can tell. Perhaps I missed some of the in-jokes or references, but that's not a big deal. It stands well on its own.

In the introduction, Drake cites the memoirs of Lord Cochrane as his source/inspiration for these books. This is the same memoir that Patrick O'Brian used for his Aubrey/Maturin books, so they bear a lot of similarity.

Commander Daniel Leary is in the employ of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy, and he's assigned to a planet that's declared independence from the Alliance, Cinnabar's enemy. He makes a stop at Diamondia, a planet under siege by Alliance forces, to check in with the man in charge there and see what the most recent intel is.

Adele Mundy, Leary's signals officer and librarian-hacker-spy, meets a young man who's the grandson of her mentor. His parents have just been killed by the head of the Alliance, and he wants her help. She brings him along on the trip, even though her sociopathic servant and bodyguard Tovera thinks it's a bad idea.

Once they arrive at Bagaria, Leary is enjoined to the Bagarian fleet, and he commands them in a few raids in Alliance space. There are crosses and double-crosses, and politicking, and hardcore librarian spying.

There are a lot of details about the ships and sailing, and I will admit I skimmed them. I found it odd that starships had literal sailing masts and rigging, but it fit the book itself. I'm not sure what the sails were made of (probably described in more detail in earlier books in the series), though I remember mention of it being very thin. (Nanomaterial?) I will say that it's disheartening to read about a ship with the name of your football club (which itself is named for a ship) being sunk a few hours before they're set to take the pitch. (Sports fans are a superstitious lot. We won, btb, for the first time this season.)

There's a lot of adventure, and I really liked the hardcore traumapast librarian. If you read the Aubrey/Maturin books (Master and Commander, etc) and thought, "You know what these books need? Spaceships," the RCN series is for you. If you like Bujold's Vorkosigan books and don't mind fine attention to sailing detail, you might enjoy them, too.

The first three books are available at the Baen Free Library, beginning with With the Lightnings.

02 September 2011

Book review: 1632

1632, by Eric Flint. 2000, Baen. Available in print and at the Baen Free Library

The premise behind 1632 and its sequels is that a mining town in West Virginia from the year 2000 is magically swapped with an equal-sized piece of land in Thuringia in 1632. The Americans are dropped in the middle of the Thirty Years' War, during which the Catholic Holy Roman Empire was doing its level best to wipe out the Protestants.

Mike Stearns, a union organizer and UMWA member, organizes a militia to defend their town and the neighboring towns. Their personal gun collections are vastly superior to the arquebuses of the 17th century, so they have quick, decisive victories, until they get embroiled in the greater conflict surrounding them.

Flint goes into a good bit of detail about how the town residents can scale their existing level of technology--electricity, internal combustion engines, etc--down to something more sustainable with the resources available to them in the mid-17th century. He also goes into a good bit of detail about the military history and manouevres.

There's a very strong "Wooo! USA!" jingoism to the book, but it's a leftish sort of jingoism, focused on equality, freedom of religion, and worker's rights. From someone of Flint's background (former labor organizer and member of the Socialist Workers' Party), that's not too surprising.

There were several not-so-subtle digs at Americans, including remarks from 1632-era characters like "Americans don't know how to cook without a ton of meat," and "Why do they think walking everywhere is such a horrible thing?" which I found rather apt. He also takes a few digs at institutionalized sexism.

The best marksman in town is a high school senior named Julie. Before they got bamfed back to the 17th century, she was training for the Olympic biathlon qualification. She takes her shiny rifle and joins a party to act as a sniper. Mike tells her it's OK if she can't bring herself to shoot people, and that even in the military, they let you drop out of sniping without prejudice. She ignores him and sets up her targets.
Finally, an expression came to her young, almost angelic face. But Mike couldn't quite interpret it. Sarcasm? No, it was more like whimsy; or maybe, wry amusement.

"Did Uncle Frank ever tell you the story," she asked, "about the first time I went deer hunting? How I cried like a baby after I shot my first buck?"

Mike nodded. Julie's expression grew very wry.

"You know why? The deer was so pretty. And it had never done me any harm." Julie cocked her head toward her observer, a girl no older than she. Another recent high-school graduate. Slender, where Julie was not, but otherwise—peas from a pod.

"Hey, Karen! Those guys look pretty to you?"

Karen shifted her gum into a corner of her mouth. "Nope. Ugly bastards. Mean looking, too. Look more like wild dogs than cute little deer."

Julie bared her teeth. The smile was far more savage than anything belonging on the face of an eighteen-year-old, male or female. "That's what I thought. Hey, Karen! Watcha think they'll do—to you and me, I mean—if they get their hands on us?"

Karen was back to chewing her gum. Her words came out in a semimumble. "Don't want to think about it, girl. But I'll tell you one thing. Won't be trying to sweet-talk us into the backseat of a car. Not likely."

The smile left Julie's face; but, if anything, the sense of whimsy was even stronger in her eyes. She gave Mike a level gaze.
"That's the whole problem with allowing men into combat," she said solemnly. "You guys are just too emotional about the whole thing."

Overall, I enjoyed the book, even though I had some quibbles with the German. ("Thank God" is three words in German, not two, and it's not "Danke Gott," but "Gott sei Dank." Threw me out of the story both times it came up. This is not likely to be a problem for most readers, however.) There were some stylistic quirks that bothered me, but not enough to make me stop reading. If you like alternate history and military fiction, with some focus on the characters, you might like this. (And it's available free online, so giving the first few chapters a go won't cost you anything beyond your usual internet fee.)